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International CES 2009 & THE Show Report
Consumer Electronics Show 2009 Report & Coverage   The Home Enteetainment Show
CES & THE Show 2009 Report
Part 5 By Rick Becker

  In what was labeled the Rives Audio room I heard Talon Firehawks powered by the new Navison 150 watt OTL monoblocks ($30,000/pr) with a Navison Reference 228 CD player ($9500) and SE MkII preamplifier ($6500) ahead of it. The monoblocks were visually attractive atop custom sized vibration absorbing stands from SRA. Surprisingly; Navison comes from Vietnam , a country that has become known for reasonably priced bedroom furniture, supplanting Chinese goods that are becoming increasingly expensive. Could this be a harbinger of things to come in the audio world? Also seen, but not heard, was Navison's NVS-211PSE monoblocks ($22,500) featuring a pair of 211 tubes running in parallel to put out 40 watts each in Class A, single ended triode mode. Rives, of course, is known for their room correction technology.

I had been hoping for another chance to hear loudspeakers from Zu Audio since my first exposure to them in New York a few years back. They were playing their new Essence model here which features their 4th generation 10-inch paper cone full-range driver, supplemented above 10 kHz with a high efficiency ribbon tweeter. The company is gelling from what was a boutique manufacturer willing to cater to the customers whim (in terms of paint jobs, at least) to a more focused and solid manufacturer. The Essence is offered in gloss black or American black walnut in satin or gloss at $5000, or a huge choice of other colors to satisfy your interior decorator at a $1500 premium. They are to be blessed for abstaining from rainforest veneers. With 97dB/W/m efficiency and no crossover you can expect lots of transparency and huge dynamics. The 12-Ohm impedance, with 9-Ohm minimum should be very tube friendly as evidenced by the familiar looking Manley Mahi monoblocks on the floor. I suspect the sample I heard was fresh off the assembly line since the Essence was formally launched in January. I heard the outstanding transparency and felt the dynamics, but the bottom end was still a little boomy and the top end had too much energy for my tastes. It would be interesting to hear this speaker placed on some SDS IsoFeet after it had been pounding out music for another month. Keep an eye and ear on this company. I suspect they are going to go far. And if you need a speaker for a bigger room, they have lots of models above the Essence for you to check out.

 

Audio Physics was playing their new Scorpio loudspeaker (4500€) which is at the top of their "High End" series, just below their "Reference" series. The CAD cabinet is a bit unusual in that its curvature widens out at the back, allowing you to see the two woofers on each side when the loudspeaker is canted toward the listening position. As you expect from this established German manufacturer, the design, fit and finish is excellent. And with a variety of models within each line, including center channel loudspeakers, the possibility of surround sound or home theater with matching drivers is very flexible. A variety of wood finishes as well as silver, white and black are available. Good sound here.

DeVore Fidelity was playing their new 3XL monitor ($3700) with solid bamboo cabinet sitting atop a matching stand that sounded very, very good powered by Nagra VPA tube amps and a Spiral Groove SG-2 turntable feeding a Nagra VPS tube phono stage and PL-P battery powered tube preamplifier. The sound here was exceptionally good with outstanding detail, transparency and dynamics…all without the slightest hint of irritation. DeVore plays up the Green Theme with a silk dome tweeter and new paper coned woofer along with 90dB/W/m sensitivity and flat 8 Ohm impedance that is very tube friendly. My apologies for missing a photo op — it was probably very late in the day by this point. There seemed to be a full complement of DeVore loudspeakers in the room, but the 3XL was certainly the good news. A tip of my Sierra Club hat goes out to them. They got the music just right in this room.

NuForce showed a music server that seemed intuitive and user friendly enough that even I might be tempted to move in that direction, aside from the issue of downloading all the obscure music and album covers in my 5000 LP collection. Next to it was their little desktop amplifier for use with computers that was smaller than the dictionary I keep close at hand. Cute! Using Ayon tube electronics, I heard very detailed music from the Escalante Designs Pinyon monitor that I reviewed back in 2005. They have since been updated with lower, tighter bass and even higher efficiency. Nearby, in another room, people were listening very intently to the larger Fremont model driven by Electrocompaniet electronics from Norway . Again, these are very fast and detailed, perhaps more geared for studio monitoring or shorter, "you are there" listening sessions, rather than all day listening. Superb build quality, as you expect at their price.

 

  

I was impressed with the sound and beauty of the Maxxhorn (now knows as Affirm Audio) Lumination ($34,000), a folded horn design with a Tractrix single driver mounted on a tiger maple baffle with gloss black sides that can be special ordered in various combinations of satin and gloss finish, depending on your desired bling quotient. It was driven by a remote controlled Ayon Crossfire integrated amplifier that puts out 30 wpc with the Ayon 62B power tube. This is a Class A SET design with zero feedback with outstanding build quality, coming from Austria . The source was the Ayon CD-2, a $5500 top loading player with Class A tube powered single ended and balanced output stage. The beauty of this player was disguised by a pair of beanbags placed atop for damping. It specs out with a lot of technology, including a warm-up function to prolong the life of the 6H30 Russian triode tubes. Very impressive.

A visit to the Gershman Acoustics room was a delightful update of the last Montreal show with the Black Swans. Magnan cables connected the gear and this was the very best of many opportunities I've had to hear the Black Swans ($34,000) and they are indeed a very fine loudspeaker with a unique and now almost classic shape that will do justice to the finest interiors. While some have said they have a deep bass, those who demand a strong bottom octave should have a careful audition with their amplifier of choice.

Prima Luna introduced a new Prologue Eight Mk2 CD player with a tube-based clock and a new Prologue Three Mk2 preamp that were feeding Dialogue 7 monoblocks (?) putting out 70 watts each in ultralinear mode or 40 watts in triode. At least that is what the literature I picked up suggested. Something one of the hosts said suggested that the preamp and CD player might be new models in the Dialogue series. In any case they were driving Sonus Faber Amati loudspeakers quite effectively. The new pieces are said to be a significant step up from the earlier models. The new gear has 12AU7 tubes instead of the 12AX7s resulting in much less distortion above 1V, by a factor of 20 Kevin Deal tells me. He also pointed out that the 12AU7s are much more widely available in a variety of NOS tubes at a much lower cost than 12AX7s making it a lot more fun for guys who like to roll tubes.

 

The Mystere line is built to an even higher level of quality than the Prima Luna and runs in pentode mode, which is a lot closer to triode than ultralinear. Pictured here is the impressive underside point to point wiring of a Mystere integrated amplifier with its premium volume control seen in the bottom left side of the photo. I heard the Mystere gear playing the Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Baby Grand loudspeaker, available in three wood veneers as well as piano white and piano black. The more powerful ia21 model integrated allows you to change from EL34 to KT88 tubes with the flip of a switch after swapping the four power tubes. The unfamiliar classical music didn't allow me to get a grip on the sound here — they always seem to play classical music on the Vienna Acoustics speakers — but the Vienna Acoustics line has a very high rating in my book. Likewise, the Prima Luna line and Mystere line, both from the Netherlands , is rapidly earning my respect.

 

EgglestonWorks introduced their new Andra III loudspeaker with a complement of Ayre electronics on Grand Prix racks. The cabinet takes on different hues in the flash photo due to the combination of multiple angles, high gloss paint finish and aluminum side panels. This is a serious loudspeaker at 220 lbs each and $23,900/pr. Time was running short and I only allowed myself a brief listen.

 

I had another brief visit at the Musical Interpretations room but it was a jaw-dropping experience that shook my fundamental sense of value. The CD player was not noted, but the Musicality pre-amp ($2500) and Musicality monoblocks ($2500 each) using a pair of 2A3 tubes in push-pull configuration drove the MI 15 coaxial loudspeakers ($3500/pr) with stunning transparency and huge dynamics. The monoblocks, using zero feedback, are spec'd at 10 watts each, but I was told they put out 7. Nonetheless, that is all that was needed to drive the 102dB/W/m efficient loudspeakers. The 12- and 18-inch coaxial versions of this speaker are also listed for not much less or much more than the 15-inch version shown. I noted that the speakers and amps were set on Stillpoints cones with risers, point up. No fancy amp stands here — just the cones. This gear definitely deserves closer investigation, but strangely, their website turns up the home page of a photographer.

 

King Sound of China hosted three rooms with various size versions of their electrostatic loudspeakers. The big rig had a pair of electrostatics supplemented with separate towers (seen in the corner) housing four dynamic drivers each for $12,000, complete. In another room I heard the smaller Prince II full range electrostats (48 Hz to 36 kHz) costing $5600 and driven by a single Phi 200 stereo amplifier. Both rooms sounded very good, and probably would have sounded better if I had settled into the sweet spot for a more serious listen. In the third room, I spotted a prototype of a new VAC integrated that combines the circuitry of the preamp and power amp just mentioned. I figure that one will cost in the neighborhood of $20,000.

 

Western Electric presented their power amp and preamp with Isophon Arabba speakers ($37,000) from Germany that featured ceramic drivers, or $45,000 with diamond tweeters. Somewhere I wrote down the prices of the WE gear, but all I can find are the photos of the large and small monoblocks seen here. The prices were commensurate with the cost of the loudspeakers, as I recall. The large meter on the front of the monoblocks topped out at 600 watts, but listening at reasonable level to a ballad by the Eagles, it didn't get close to 0.1 watt. What does that tell you? Also, the label on the Isophon speaker suggests the Germans are developing breakthrough technology in genetic engineering.

  

 

Click here for Part 6.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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